Developer rejects claims that Huntingdon Beach project could face flood risk

The developer behind a proposed desalination project at Huntington Beach, California has rejected claims that high tides over the Christmas weekend could signal a surge in flood protection costs for the plant.

The site designated for Poseidon Water’s planned giant seawater Huntington Beach desalination plant - alongside an existing AES natural-gas power plant - was among a number identified by a 2009 Pacific Institute study as prone to a 100-year flood – facing a 1% chance in any year of flooding. December’s 2m tides have prompted warnings for the desalination project developers.

According to a report in the Los Angeles Times, water programme director for the Pacific Institute, Heather Cooley, said she believes the increased sea level should prompt Poseidon to to increase the flood protection at the proposed Huntingdon Beach desalination facility. She warned that the higher levels could create a need for changes to the plant’s intake system.

According to Cooley, rising seas could change the dynamics of the region’s tides. “There could be changes in erosion patterns that could create problems for existing infrastructure, especially if it’s not designed to accommodate those changes.”

Poseidon insisted the site will be unaffected by sea-level rises during the desalination plant’s 50-year operation cycle. Poseidon’s vice president, Scott Maloni, said the sea-level rise does not pose a risk to the facility according to guidance produced by the Califormia Coastal Commission.

“We have applied the [Coastal Commission] staff’s worst-case sea-level rise estimates to our analysis. The worst-case sea-level rise projection in the year 2070 is 3.5 feet [mean sea level]. The desalination project current sits at 9 to 14 feet [mean sea level], so 3.5 feet of sea level rise doesn’t pose a risk at this time,” Maloni said.

Associate director of Orange County Coastkeeper, Ray Hiemstra, forecast that the series of extraordinarily high tides was, in time, “going to be a normal day”.

“The tides that we saw last weekend are an example of what we’re going to be looking at in the future,” Hiemstra said. “Throw in big waves or a storm on top of that, we’re going to have some real interesting situations,” he added.

He said that billion-dollar desalination projects like Huntingdon Beach should not be built in an area that is already prone to flooding. He suggested that the project be moved to another location, possibly Doheny State Beach.